The origin of this post is a thought-provoking article I read yesterday by Ryan Opaz, co-founder of the Iberian wine website Catavino. Ryan states unequivocally that Spain is a wine consuming country but not a wine loving country. I agree and would like to make some additional comments about this parlous state of affairs in Rioja.
Yesterday while doing some food shopping I decided to check out the wine aisle in the supermarket across the street from our apartment building. I don’t usually buy wine at the supermarket and yesterday confirmed the reason for this.
First of all, there were more offerings of brands from outside Rioja than of wines from our own region, and sadly, none of the brands attracted the slightest bit of interest. An attempt to broaden the taste of wine drinkers in Rioja? I don’t think so. I firmly believe that supermarkets are trying to make us drink what they want to sell us rather than what we want to drink, and tell us it’s for our own good. A large section of the aisle was devoted to the supermarket’s own labels, both the basic supermarket brands and their discount brands, while the presence of winery-owned labels was limited to high-volume wines of average quality.
Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything.
Last night, while having a drink with my buddy Alberto Gil, who writes about wine for our local newspaper LA RIOJA, we got into a conversation about a new wine from Bodegas Lan – D12 – that I had seen at a local wine bar. The wine’s story caught my eye: the cellarmaster traditionally stored the best wines from a vintage in Tank 12, hence D (for ‘depósito’) 12. I liked the wine. Alberto’s comment was that if we wanted to buy a bottle locally we would either have to get it from the winery or from the local distributor. It would probably not be available at retail in Logroño. And according to Alberto, no one here seems to be interested in stocking these wines.
At retail in Logroño? That also made me think. How many really good wine shops are there here? I can think of one (El Universal de los Vinos) with a good but very small selection and two shops in Haro, both of which specialize in old Rioja vintages but none featuring new products from Rioja wineries.
To buy these, you either have to shop online (Lavinia and Vila Viniteca are two good places) or go to Madrid, Barcelona, London or New York (and be prepared to pay a premium!)
To return to my original point, the absence of a community of curious, passionate wine lovers in La Rioja is the reason why we are offered such a poor selection of wines. We do have several events a year where producers are encouraged to show their best offerings, but unfortunately, after the tastings, no offer to buy is made to the attendees.
The nadir of the ‘we drink it but don’t love it’ attitude was expressed by a middle-aged man who stopped by the stand I was managing at a local wine fair several years ago.
“Give me a glass of wine”, he ordered. (Note the absence of the word ‘please’)
I replied, while biting my tongue, “This is a 2001 crianza from Bodegas X, made with tempranillo and aged for 16 months in American oak.”
“Save the explanation, just give me the *?+#%!! wine”, was the irate response.
Here was a true wine drinker.
In the meantime, I’ll try to find a bottle of D12. When I do, you’ll hear about it.